Can the IRS take Social Security to pay back taxes?

Yes, but not all of it. Social Security is protected against most creditors, but the IRS has a unique position in the government. This means that if you owe tax debts, the IRS may take some of your social security until those debts are paid off.

How much? That depends. There are two different ways that the IRS can take your social security. First, they can use the Federal Payment Levy Program to take an automatic 15% of your monthly social security benefit. This will continue until the tax debts has been paid in full.

The second option is more aggressive. It is called a continuous levy on wages. This entitles the IRS to take all wages and benefits above a certain threshold. This threshold is determined by the number of dependents you have. To see where your threshold is, look at the table in this link. This is the 2012 table, so look for the updated table if you are reading this in a later year.

If this levy creates a severe financial hardship, then the IRS may agree to lower the collection amount. The IRS keeps a list of collection standards, and doesn't collect so much as to force you below a certain standard of living. They are also often willing to work out voluntary repayment programs, especially for those that might experience economic hardship from collection. If you want to ask for special treatment due to hardship, then make sure that you are able to document all of your income and expenses.

Taxes, especially old taxes, are dischargeable in bankruptcy in the correct circumstances. If you are facing the possibility of losing your social security, you should consult with an attorney to see if you can discharge those taxes in bankruptcy, and protect your social security.

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